Will Obama Cave on Civilian Trials?



Although the president has made clear since May 2009 that he would hold many detainees in the war on terrorism indefinitely, and although the civilian trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others were bound to be show trials—the administration promised conviction and, failing that, continued detention nevertheless—I still am sad to see that Obama might use military commissions, caving to political pressure, in these high-profile cases. It means the politics of fearmongering can easily win out, and that even a tiny gesture toward a superficial fidelity to the rule of law is simply insufficient in Washington. It reminds me of when Bush wanted to allow a Dubai company to help run an American port, and, in the face of Democrats’ partisan attacks and hysteria among his own party, he backed down, caving to anti-Arab pressure. This has larger consequences for the rule of law, but, again, we must remember that even if Obama goes ahead with civil trials, it will be a sham of our legal traditions.

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